Fabulous bento lunches can be obtained from the basement food court departments of most major Japanese department stores.

The best bento will contain an utterly fresh and interesting assortment of foodstuffs, including rice, meat, pickles, fish, and vegetables.

Buying dept store bentos is one of the ways a vistor can cut the cost of staying in Japan. In fact, some dept stores even provide refrigerated lockers for a couple of hundred yen, so that you can buy your dinner at lunch time and collect later in the day.

"Bento" in Portland, OR (and perhaps other parts of the West Coast?), though derived from the "lunchbox" concept, has taken on a new, and arguably twisted but yummy, meaning. A "Bento" restaurant in Portland will sometimes serve your food in a box, and other times in a bowl or on a plate. What unifies all "Bento" in Portland is the contents: the basic idea is rice or, in some places, yakisoba noodles, with vegetables or meat on top. Many Bento Restaurants in Portland will also serve a variety of Japanese (or at least Japanese-ish) food such as Miso Soup, Potstickers, and Sushi.

A lot of people complain about Japanese tomatoes.

These people have never lived in Hokkaido, and had early-autumn tomatoes picked from the vine a scarce minute before they're sliced and placed carefully into a tiny tinfoil cup before being inserted, with ultimate mathematical precision, into a tiny lacquered box. Actually, it's two boxes that fit together, which combined are no larger than a Tom Clancy paperback.

The box is wrapped up in, ironically enough, a Mickey and Minnie cloth. I forgot my Keroppi chopsticks, so I'm eating with horrible disposible chopsticks.

Sliced tomatoes are the simplest dish in the box, which also contains the following:

It's accompanied by a thermos of cool jasmine tea, the oolong kind, not the green kind.

My girlfriend's mother makes my bento every day. As sadly reaffirmative as this is of sexist Japanese culture, where "she wouldn't make my bento" is an acceptable reason for divorce, I can't help but be happy.

This is the best lunch I've ever had, day and day again.

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